small textlarge text

W. Todd Kaneko

How I Know Stanislaus Zybyszko

Download MP3

Zbyszko decided he wanted to win the title and no one had
bothered to teach Munn much in the way of wrestling …
Zbyszko was so dominant the official had to count the fall
to avoid a riot.
—Shooters: The Toughest Men
    in Professional Wrestling


The part of me that is my father remembers
Big Wayne Munn was supposed to carry
the world championship after wrestling
Stanislaus Zbyszko that day in 1925. I know
that spirit battering itself against my ribs
will give out one day, that a man's body can
fight only so long as his heart understands how.

America knew Munn as a clean-faced
footballer from Nebraska who won
with a half-nelson crotch hold and dump
tackle—The part of me that is my mother
loves how the Polish strongman Zbyszko
double-crossed everyone, how he held Munn
down and forced the referee to count three.
She delighted at the sight of a man's body
in defeat, how he sprawls spent, slackjawed,
eyes shining like cemetary lights.

The part of me that is my father understands
how a man is lured into butterfly clutches,
into chickenwings. The part of me that is
my mother praises dead animals, delights
at shapes the butcher extracts from carcasses.
Whatever part of me that is my own sees
my father's somber expression when I look
in the mirror. Whatever is left of me will be
horsecollar, cattlebrand, a skeleton twisted
into the shape of a cage.

Judy Grable Makes a Living

Download MP3

A woman can't make a living just being a blonde—although
I've heard of a few who have…
—Groucho Marx to Judy Grable
    What's My Line, 1959


Let's say that a girl's profession
has nothing to do with her body,
that when she changes her hair color
the rest of us will not be harmed.

That vital question—   who are you, will you fight
                                      for what you want?

Let's say the fist is the body, the elbow
is the body, the body is a knee to the face,
a barefoot stomp. When a woman gives up
her body, the way Judy Grable wrestled
every night, someone gets hurt.

When a comedian asks a girl about her life,
the world laughs or mourns, depending
on how sexy the answers are

to that identical question—
                                      what is your life worth?

Judy Grable only answers yes/no
questions—only smiles at inquiries into
sexual contact and happiness.

Let's say the body constantly aches
for release, perpetually moves toward rest
after our constant strugle to answer

the impossible question—
                                      have you ever won?

June Byers Knows What a Woman Wants

Download MP3

She told me why she was leaving
the only way she knew how,
my mother in the driveway that night—

a story about seeing June Byers
defending her championship in 1955.
Five rows back, my mother watched
two women grapple for the belt.
June Byers, foxy like a rodeo queen,
tied that woman down, arms pulled back,
shoulders popped from their sockets.
My mother stood on her chair
while the champion tossed her rival
into the ropes with an elbow smash
to the neck on the rebound. Spinning
toehold, butterfly stretch, pendulum
backbreaker—June Byers squeezed
a woman by the throat whenever
the referee couldn't see. My mother
squealed with glee as Byers broke
that woman's nose with a right cross.

After the match, my mother looked up
at her father and promised to be a champion
like June Byers, a woman more fistfight
than housewife, more pocketknife than lipstick.
The next day, her parents registered her
for etiquette school. Don't go, I said

into her scent of cigarettes and beer. God,
she said. Don't be like your father

before unwrapping herself from my arms,
her taillights vanishing in the dark.

➥ Bio